The Greek Holon Journey: Seven
Communion Reflection for December 29, 2020
On our last morning on Paros, in the time before the ferry departed, I was walking in the town, disappointed to find
that the shops were not yet open… on one narrow street I saw a small building with an open doorway.
I walked inside, found a tiny darkened chapel with lighted red lamps near Icons. On the right wall an Icon of Mary drew me.
I stood spellbound. I felt invited to rededicate my life to the Sacred Feminine…..
I recited Rilke’s poem that seems to be spoken by Her:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Still, I could not go. I kept gazing at the Icon. Then I saw the Child in Mary’s arms.
Icon of Mary in a Chapel on Paros Island, Greece
Suddenly the “Sealskin, Soulskin” story in C.P. Estes' book Women Who Run with the Wolves came to me.
I recalled the teaching that when a woman has found her soul, it is her spirit (her son) that she sends to do her work in the world.
I recalled the words that the Sealwoman spoke to her son as she placed him on the shore in the moonlight,
“Only touch what I have touched and I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”
I felt that the Sacred Feminine was promising me the same, as well as inviting me to send my spirit – my work -- into the world.
In the five years since that encounter, my understanding about what my work is has grown and deepened
within the small circle that encompasses my life. The Year 2020 has called me beyond that space.
With you, I have come to see the expanded reality where so much more is being asked of us.
Now, fifteen years after I first heard Jean Houston describe the calling of our time,
I understand this is not about some future urgency. It’s now.
Here are Jean’s words:
Throughout history and all over the world, people have felt a yearning to be more, a longing to push the membrane of the possible. Never so much more as those living today. People feel called to a life of new being. Much of the urgency that you may have felt these last years, moving between stress and distress, the sense of living in an outmoded condition, the exhilaration before what is not yet, the dread of leaving the womb of the old era - comes from the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Birth is a journey. Second birth is as great a journey. In the womb of new becoming it means laying down new pathways in the body and in the senses to take in the news of this remarkable world. It means extending the field of your psychology so that there is more of you to do so much of this. It demands that you choose a richer, juicier story, even a new myth, by which to comprehend your life and that you begin to live out of it. And, most important of all, it asks that you be sourced and re-sourced in God, spirit, the cosmic mind, the quantum field, - the love that moves the sun and all of the stars. (Jean Houston)
For this new story, this new myth, we may look to Mary, Mother of Jesus, as an Archetype. Mary will guide us into this entirely new time,
she, called from a quiet life in a small village to become the mother of a child who would change history by rebirthing all we understand of Love.
That is our calling: to birth, to rebirth life on our planet, to be willing, as Mary was willing,
to endure the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Once more, I turn to John O’Donohue to guide our entry into Mary’s experience.
Here is his poem, “Nativity”:
No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.
Someone is coming ashore inside her.
A face deciphers itself from water
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.
In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.
Outside each other now, she sees him first.
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.
John O’Donohue (from Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000)
The Greek Holon Journey:Six
On the Greek island of Paros, we come upon a magnificent Church, built by the Roman Emperor Constantine to fufill a promise made by his mother Helena. The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece.
Calliope ("Kapi"), our Greek guide, tells us of the Church:
In 326, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica. Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople’s famed Hagia Sophia, to design it.
Inside, two large, luminous icons of Mary greet us. Affixed to the lower frame of the icons we see images made of gold and silver in shapes depicting eyes, legs, arms….. Our guide, Calliope, tells us that these are offerings given in thanksgiving for a healing.
Kapi reminds us that we saw something similar in the Museum: plaster representations of an arm or a leg that was healed, offered in thanksgiving to the healer god Asclepius.
silver image of an eye
The dogmas change; the traditions go on, Kapi comments, revealing yet another way in which Greek spirituality is part of a continuum from ancient days. Where once the Greeks sought healing from Asclepius, they now turn to Mary in their need.
On this beautiful island in the Aegean, the mystery of Mary of Nazareth confronts us. A woman wrapped in silence,
the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.
As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year,
Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.
Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief,
her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.
Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become,
as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?
When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered an invitation. The Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:
Cast from afar before the stones were born
And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,
The words have waited for the hunger in her
To become the silence where they could form.
The day’s last light frames her by the window,
A young woman with distance in her gaze,
She could never imagine the surprise
That is hovering over her life now.
The sentence awakens like a raven,
Fluttering and dark, opening her heart
To nest the voice that first whispered the earth
From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.
She offers to mother the shadow’s child;
Her untouched life becoming wild inside.
Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time… when our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?
From Jean Houston, we have learned that this is no time to modestly refuse any call that smacks of greatness.
The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness.
Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:
Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again because
it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),
because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because... because… because….
What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?
It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.
(Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)
But nonetheless it is our call.
Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead.
It is enough to know that our own life, like Mary’s, is about to become “wild inside”.
The Greek Holon Journey Five: Awakening on Mount Pelion
( The Universe is 96% dark matter )
On the morning following our Nature Walk among the trees, bushes, healing plants and flowers of Mount Pelion, we find our way to the dining room where large windows overlook the mountainside. Gazing at the view, we enjoy Greek yogurt, honey, fresh bread and fruit. After breakfast, Jean gathers us into a small sitting room where we each find a space on a cushion, a chair, a couch or the floor.
“We are all connected with the deep ecology of the universe,” Jean says, drawing us into the theme for her morning's teaching, which is to be based on Duane Elgin's book, The Living Universe. As Elgin's mentor, Jean had assisted him with the book's development.
"Natural settings like Mount Pelion give us potent awareness of this.” The universe, Jean tells us, is being continuously recreated and we ourselves are part of this rebirthing, capable of working with the realities of space and time, capable of changing realities.
Just as the universe is 96 % dark matter so too with us: our own possibilities are hidden. Yet we are part of a vast support system. In deep relationship with spiritual power, we partake with the universe in a process of interdependent co-arising. We experience what Jesus knew when he said, “The Father and I are one.”
Physicist David Bohm described the universe as “an undivided wholeness in flowing movement”, a single symphony of expression being regenerated at each moment. We are limited only by our consciousness, by our awareness.
“Your identity is equal to your consciousness of it,” Jean tells us.
We live in the clear light of mother universe, an ocean of luminosity, presenting itself to us as transparent. The nature of reality is more akin to music than to machine. A vast “Indra’s Net”, reality resonates with each bead that rings. Every bonded particle is in resonance with every other particle. We are present to the farthest star. Listen to it all, for our ears have the capacity for infinite dimensionality.
How our consciousness grows determines the harmonious structure of probability: the intended music of our consciousness structures what happens in our life. Our thought is a request for mirroring. Our physical bodies are anchors for light. Our life can change in an instant through awakening.
This IS the time of the great awakening: our own reflective human consciousness allows the planet to advance itself through us as we awaken. That’s why everything of the older order is breaking down.
In the Axial Age, around 600 BC (within an era stretching from 900 to 200 BC), the great religions rose to set the direction of spirituality for millennia. In a time of extreme violence and warfare, religions responded by putting Compassion at the centre.
Now we have lost the story and need a new one in response to looming conflicts related to the scarcity of resources. We need the GREAT AWAKENING in this time of huge collapse and Re-Creation. We respond by radical transformation, discovering the reality of our universe.
Material deprivation leads to spiritual abundance. Our species has been in adolescence. Now we are maturing into the promise of a hopeful future as we grow into awareness of our responsibility. Pope Francis is speaking as “the first adult”.
We need to hold an image of ourselves as pioneers of a new way, in an unprecedented rite of passage, building a new relationship with the earth after millennia of separation from nature. Our powers are now so great that they threaten life on this planet.
We begin to make our way back to a harmonious relationship with the earth. We are a witnessing species now transparent to each other.
We are a cosmic species, children of a living cosmos, with purpose to our lives.
The sense of connection awakens as we see ourselves as part of the living universe: the offspring.
Humanity is on a heroic journey into awakening, living within a living universe. There is a mutuality of knowing between the universe and ourselves, a sense of belonging. We need only the social will to claim the connection.
PAY ATTENTION, Jean tells us, as decisions of monumental importance for our future are made.
It is still full darkness the following morning when I waken with sudden knowing. 5:20 am. Time of the eclipse. Full moon. Blood moon.
I pull on a warm robe over pajamas, push my feet into sandals, hurry outside.
Some of my companions are walking around the perimeter of the hotel trying to locate the moon in this blackened cloud-shrouded sky.
I see a bright light just above the hotel’s front entrance. I stand here, a solitary watcher gazing at the sky. This may be part of the eclipse. Yes, it must be. I wait, gazing.
I hear Jean’s voice behind me: “That’s not the moon. That’s the Morning Star.”
A wind separates the clouds. We follow the light further along the road. Darkness. Light. The clouds part to reveal a reddish tinge.
The Blood Moon. The eclipse. We watch, wrapt in silence….
a reddiish tinge: Blood Moon
No teacher on the planet could wish for a better illustration of her teaching.
Nor could any teacher make better magic of the moment, noting the emergence: “The next level of your human becoming,” Jean says into the radiant darkness. “Feel it. Look out at the great branching of light….it looks like an angelic light, permeating through the sky, this sky of your own becoming, in this magnificent cosmic visual display. Great angelic forms. Just look at this phenomenal reality: potent and bright.
"an angelic light, permeating...this sky of your own becoming"
“The great branching out. As within, so without; as without, so within. Feel this branching, this activation of your essential humanness as it moves to its next possibility….the branching that is happening so powerfully now.
“Isn’t it glorious? One of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen…. And so it is! "
The Greek Holon Journey Part Four: Mount Pelion
Our bus climbs a narrow road, spiralling upwards, criss-crossing the forested flanks of Mount Pelion. The fog that envelops us, seemingly emanating from the trees, adds mystery to the magic. On either side, gigantic trees hover: verdant pines, flourishing plane trees, oak, beech and chestnut, conifer and deciduous, inviting the imagination to conjure stories of enchanted woods. We think of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, of Tolkein’s Lothlorien…
In places where the trees part, we look outwards across the vista. Best not to look downwards, for the road may vanish, the bus appearing to hover in mid-air above chasms. Such a journey requires a trustworthy driver and we breathe our thanks for Panagiotis.
Mount Pelion lies halfway between Athens and Thessalonica, taking us into the storied life of Asclepius, believed to have been born in Thessalonica (520 km north of Athens) before the Trojan War (1250 BCE). As a child, Asclepius was sent to be taught by the Centaur physician Chiron, who trained him in the arts of healing. This mountain whose heights we are ascending may have been the place where Asclepius climbed to meet his teacher.
Continuous with the knowledge of the most ancient ones, filled with their reverence and knowledge of the natural order, Asclepius became the greatest healer in Greece, his vast knowledge matched only by the depth of his compassion. He could apparently heal almost any ill of mind or body, sometimes using herbs and medicines or surgical procedures, but more often than not healing through spiritual and psychological means, attuning his patients to their capacity for health and wholeness.
(Jean Houston, The Search for the Beloved p.9)
In this same book, Jean Houston tells us that the centaurs, the “ancient ones” whose knowledge was passed on to Asclepius, may not have been half-man, half-horse as legend portrays them. They may have been the remnants of Neanderthals who did not entirely disappear from the planet 25,000 years ago, but instead “removed themselves to remote and hilly country where they were often seen riding shaggy ponies, their hairy bodies indistinguishable from their mounts” They passed on to selected students, who included priests, princes and physicians-in-training, their “botanical knowledge and natural philosophy of a hundred thousand years or more”. (p. 8)
Mount Pelion was known as a “healing mountain” because of the medicinal and healing plants that flourish on its slopes, and the crystal clear water of its streams. Homeopathic, herbal, flower essences and even poisonous remedies were distilled from the herbs of Mount Pelion: meadow saffron, hemlock, henbane, nightshade, mandrake, St. John’s wort, mullein and yarrow.
Still today these plants and herbs are gathered and sold in village markets throughout the region.
As we continue our ascent of Mount Pelion, we are invited into a time of silence. We each carry within us our own magical forest, our own mysterious fog, our own longings for healing and wholing. What are these inner enchantments? Which ones serve our life, and our work of healing and wholing for our own time? Which ones do we want to let go because they hinder our work, our journey?
What is the healing we seek on this sacred mountain?
We come to the village of Tsagarada where the turquoise Aegean Sea fills our eastward gaze, while the wooded slopes of Mount Pelion dominate the westward view. Once we have settled into our rooms, caught our breath, and donned good walking shoes, Panagiotis takes us to one of the village’s four courtyards, each one named for its church. In the courtyard of St Paraskevi there stands a plane tree that is 1100 years old, with a circumference of 46 feet.
The tiny chapel is open, inviting us to enter, to gaze at a lovely Icon of Mary with large lustrous eyes, her hand resting on her heart. Her presence draws forth the questions that arose in us during the silence of our bus journey. We sense her guidance not to grapple with these, rather to focus on the magic of now, being with our companions, rather than being absorbed with our stories.
Our guide for a walk along the pathways of Pelion is Nikolas, who greets us with an armful of walking sticks. For the next two hours we make our careful way along the ancient footpaths, stopping to gaze out at the wooded heights touched by the mountain mist....
or down at a perfect pink cyclamen growing, it seems,
straight out of a rock.
We pick up small herbs, chew on fresh mint, ask the names of blue and red berries on bushes beside the path, notice chestnuts…
suddenly the path opens above a striking view of the distant Aegean far far below us.
Still, with the persistence of a soundtrack, our personal questions hum within us.
We smile to see a road sign that may point the way for us. It is, of course, in Greek…
The Greek Journey Part Three: The Amphiareion
Our Journey to Greece was inspired by a great healer named Asclepius who lived in Ancient Greece over 3000 years ago.
His wholistic approach to healing included drama and dreams, laughter and song, dance, spirituality ….
“Asclepius,” writes Jean Houston, “demonstrated how full well-being can be created by energizing
and balancing the body, heart, intuition, dreams, faith and spirit of a person.”
Today we set out from Athens, travelling 22 miles northeast to visit a sanctuary and oracular healing center.
Founded in the 5th century BCE and flourishing until the 4th century CE , the site was dedicated to the god-hero Amphiaraus.
Healing at the Amphiareion came through dreams and their interpretation.
The Greek travel writer Pausanias described the process in the 2nd century CE:
…the first thing is to purify oneself, when someone comes to consult Amphiaraus, and the purification ritual is to sacrifice to the god, and people sacrifice to him and to all those whose names are on ( the altar), and -- when these things are finished—they sacrifice a ram and spreading out its skin under themselves, lie down waiting for the revelation of a dream.
We approach the Amphiareion as pilgrims, as well as time travellers, for we have come to an ancient ruin
seeking a spiritual power that lingers. Nestled in a plain among mountains, here there were once baths, a theatre, the god’s temple,
staff residences, shops, inns, the agora and a water clock. Today there are only stone remnants of pedestals and sleeping benches.
Yet the peace of this place envelops us with its natural beauty, its quiet strength.
First we purify ourselves, washing our hands in a bowl that holds water infused with herbs. We have been asked to bring
a non-physical sacrifice, something in our lives we are ready to release….I have been wondering what this might be.
Inviting us to find places to sit among the tumbled stones, Jean speaks: “Sacrifice is about making holy.
"What aspect of your life do you wish to make holy?”
We ponder this in silence. What rises for me is an old fear, one that emerges now and then with renewed ferocity.
It is about home, about belonging: where do I belong? with whom? I feel drawn to sacrifice this fear,
handing it over to the Sacred Presence to whom my life is dedicated, trusting Love to care for me…
I sit looking into a grove of trees, then across to the distant mountains, breathing in peace and trust.
After a time, Jean calls us back together. Now her invitation to us is to close our eyes, to imagine ourselves back
to the 5th century BCE. Within our minds the Amphiareion reappears as a glimmer of white marble buildings,
with throngs of hope-filled seekers, moving gracefully in their draped line garments, speaking, gesturing, laughing, even singing…
the scene moves in our imaginations like a documentary film.
“Now, open your eyes,” Jean invites. “What do you see?”
There are people who have a gift for seeing with open eyes something long vanished. It does not happen here, today.
Yet, for a while longer, we move back and forth in time in our imagination.
My eyes are still closed, so this is no vision. But I do sense a presence. A tall man in the flowing white robes of Ancient Greece
is standing, facing me. He looks directly at me with wisdom and kindness in his expression:
“Why have you come? What healing do you seek?” I hear him speak in the silence of my heart.
Startled, I show him my questions, though I form no words.
He grasps at once what is in my heart, then he speaks to me:
“You have your home within you.”
I believe I have encountered an oracular healer, one who heals with words from the Sacred Presence.
Later, we walk the grounds, eat fresh figs straight from the trees, climb the steep stone steps
that lead to the ruins of the ancient theatre. There some of our companions speak to us, sing to us.
Aingeal proclaims the call of our time crying out “Now is the time to banish fear from our lives”,
the call to each to live that fullness of life that will be our gift to the evolution so needed, so longed for.
Dick sings an “Alleluia” moving Leonard Cohen’s words into a celebration of newness of life.
What have we experienced? Something more than an archaeological site, more than a history lesson.
It is a wrinkle in time; it is a taste of healing power that nourishes each of us in our own way, in our own need.
We board our bus, re-enter the crowded, vibrant, noisy, streets of 21st century Athens.
We pass a car dealership. It offers to us its own version of “oracular healing”,
loudly proclaiming in a huge red-lettered sign: FIND NEW ROADS.
Greece Journey Part Two: the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Reflection for November 24, 2020
We begin our climb upwards from the Tholos of Athena towards the Temple of Apollo. The way is winding, a graduated path, smooth, making only gentle demands on our knees so recently godded, strengthened by Hermes and Artemis. We have breath enough as we climb to engage in conversation with our companions, to share our thoughts, our experiences while we were gathered around the Tholos.
Above, and across the road lies the Kastalian Spring. Here, where the great cliffs form a chasm, both pilgrims and the priesthood gathered to purify themselves in preparation for entering the great temple. (The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece)
These Kastalian waters were said to confer inspiration and were connected with the Muses. In late Roman times the Muses were named and assigned this way:
Calliope (fair face) Epic song
Clio (proclaimer) History
Euterpe (gentle rejoicing or delight) Lyric song
Thalia (festive) Comedy
Melpomene (honey-sweet song) Tragedy
Terpsichore (rejoicing or delighting in the dance) Dance
Erato (passionate) Erotic poetry
Polyhymnia (rich in hymns) Sacred songs
Urania (the starry heavens) Astronomy
We continue upwards along the Sacred Way, its flights of stone steps challenging even for godded knees. The Sanctuary of Apollo once contained temples, rich treasures brought here as gifts from many cities and individuals, hundreds of statues. Today we pass ruins, weathered stone, holding only the memory of wealth.
The Temple of Apollo was composed of an outer and inner chamber. On the outer walls were inscribed sayings of the Seven Sages, intended to inspire those who came seeking answers, to prepare themselves for their meeting with the Pythia. For the prophetess awaited them in the inner sanctum. Here the Pythia sat beside a stone known as the omphalos, the center of the world. She held an umbilicus tied to the omphalos. She was seated on a tripod placed over a chasm in the earth from which vapors arose. She waved a branch of laurel and entered into an altered state – enthousiasmos – in which she uttered prophecies.
place where the Pythia sat
The priests who attended her recorded and “translated” her words into Homeric verse. This formal procedure for the functioning of the oracle acquired its final form in the 6th century BCE and remained unchanged until the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
If we feel some regret, some sadness, that we are nearly two millennia late for the experience, we have not yet understood the Quantum Powers of the Universe, nor learned what Jean Houston has been teaching us on this journey about the way these powers are available to us, bringing us the gift of time, past/present/future, in each sacred moment.
For here in this sacred place of the Pythia, Jean invites us to find places to sit on the fallen stones. We breathe deeply, close our eyes, come to stillness. We call upon the presence of the prophetess, trusting that her spirit is still available to us.
Jean invites us to present our questions to the Pythia. What guidance does she offer for our time? How may we move towards a planet of peace? Responses arise from within our hearts. Voices speak within our circle:
Peace will come as we open our third eye, the eye of wisdom, to recognize and honour the beauty,
the light of the sacred presence, in one another.
This seeing will lead us along the path to peace.
The Pythia invites us to take time each day for deep listening to her voice, the voice of Wisdom…
she will speak in and through us, offering guidance.
You who are reading this in the sacred space of your own home may also find yourselves seated imaginally
among the fallen stones of the Temple of Apollo, near the earth’s omphalos.
Here, you may breathe deeply, focus your heart, and call upon the wisdom that once spoke through the Pythia.
What questions do you bring to her? What responses do you hear?
When I was beginning my work in spiritual teaching, I discovered that the ancient stories held wisdom and symbols that shed light on our relationship with the Holy. One story that stirred me deeply was the Inuit tale of Bone Woman.
She had somehow displeased her father. In a rage, he hurled her over a cliff into the sea below. There she lay for millennia, resting on the sea bed while the fish ate her flesh, crustaceans covered her ivory teeth, sea creatures filled her eye sockets.
One day a fisherman ventures into the bay, not knowing the locals consider it to be haunted.
He baits his line with fish gut, lowers it and withdraws … a woman made of bone!
In terror, he paddles his kayak all the way back to his home area. There he leaps ashore, secures his boat, runs to his snow house,
pulling his fishing line with him, unaware that bone woman, completely entangled in his fishing line, is bumping along behind him.
In breathless gratitude, he hurls himself through the low door of his snow house, lights his seal oil lamp.
Only then does he see her, slumped across from him, a mess of bones still entangled with his fishing line.
His heart suddenly changes, filling with compassion. He moves to where she sits.
With immense tenderness he untangles her from the fishing line, all the while singing a lullaby.
Exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep. When a tear escapes his closed eye, Bone Woman slithers across to him,
drinks the tear until it becomes a fountain slaking her deep thirst, reaches into his chest to withdraw his heart.
She drums upon it, creating flesh, hair, eyes for her body, all that a woman needs to be whole.
She returns his heart to his chest, lies down beside him. They waken at dawn in a holy entanglement, a love that will last all their lives.
There was a time when I thought that any story must and ought and should be understood in the light of the Jesus story,
the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection.
In this story, I saw myself in Skeleton Woman, in her bones, in her thirst, in her desire for love.
I cast in the role of the fisherman the tender, compassionate, untangling Jesus.
For years I worked with the story in this way, inviting people to see how Jesus comes into our lives to untangle us,
to give us new life through his heart of flesh.
One evening I was with a group in a Southern Ontario parish. They were reflecting on the story of Bone Woman in small groups,
using the guiding questions I’d given them. Though they had been less than enthusiastic earlier, on this third evening,
I noticed a different energy: hands gesticulating, heads shaking, nodding, the volume of voices rising, especially in one group.
I was elated. This is good, I thought. Now they are really connecting with the story. I invited their comments, their responses,
asking my usual question, Who is God in this story?
"Well," the speaker from one group began, "I guess God is the fisherman. He went on to say why, prompted by my leading questions."
"No," said a woman’s voice. As she stood, I saw with alarm the fire of debate in her eyes. "God cannot be the fisherman in this story.
"God would never run from us in fear."
It was her group that had been engaging in fierce discussion. I saw their heads nodding now in agreement as she spoke.
Then something wonderful happened inside me. I understood!
"You are right," I told her. "For you have tested the story’s teaching against the truth of your own experience. And your experience tells you that the Holy One would never run from us. So, where is God in this story?"
I felt as though I’d just leapt from a plane, my parachute not yet open. I had no idea what the answer might be….
"The Holy One is Bone Woman," she said. "She enters our life, invites our engagement with her, drinks our tears, takes her very flesh from our beating hearts, finally becomes one with us, body to body, flesh to flesh, heart to heart, spirit to spirit."
That woman, I learned later, was a feminist theologian.
It was my first close encounter with a member of the species.
Since that night, I have studied the writings of feminist theologians. On a few rare occasions, I have heard them teach, or give public lectures.
I have grown in awe and appreciation of these women who, beginning in the last third of the twentieth century,
applied their brilliant, trained intellects, their powerful intelligence, their embodied knowing, to the pursuit of God.
As the woman who spoke that night did, the feminist theologians use their own experience as the fish gut to seek out the Holy,
waiting, watching, in the deep waters of their own lives, as well as in the waters of Scripture and Tradition.
They do not merely travel the sea of theology in a kayak. They plumb its depths. With fierce intelligence,
with skills honed through years of work, they separate out the crustaceans that have clung to the ivory teeth of truth;
they sort through the imbalances, untangling the errors that have accumulated over centuries of masculine-only embellishments,
masculine-only experience, masculine-only perceptions.
They have taught me that the feminine aspect of the Holy had been hurled from the cliffs of patriarchy,
had been left abandoned at the bottom of the sea. Now, in the fullness of time, She is being fished out
by our need of Her, our hunger for Her, for all that She represents.
I learned that Sophia, the personification of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, is the feminine principle of God.
More startlingly, I learned that Jesus may himself be the masculine embodiment of that feminine principle.
When you take the story of Bone Woman into your heart, notice how it resonates with your own experience:
where are you in the story now? who is loving you? calling you into fullness of life?
One more ancient structure catches our eye. It is an empty grotto-like space. It is very like the grottos created
throughout the Christian world to honour Mary, often holding a statue of her. Once again, with a shiver of recognition,
we see the continuation of the presence of the Sacred Feminine honoured through ages lost in memory, vanished before memory.
Yet still present.
Grotto awaiting the Sacared Feminine Presence
The Greek Journey Part One: Athena
Communion Reflection for November 17, 2020
In Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, Bilbo rushed out the front door of his hobbit-hole towards adventure without even stopping to pick up a “pocket handkerchief”. I, too, rushed away from our Communion “Fires of September” gathering at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph on September 20th without even stopping for lunch. Racing along the 401 highway towards the “Park ‘n Fly” at the Toronto Airport, heart in mouth, I thought only of arriving in time to catch my flight to Athens. An hour later, moving through the press of travellers seeking the flight desk, I was startled by a heavily-accented voice that rose above the din: “This way to Athena. This way to Athena.”
Athena. Already the realm of the mythic is opening. The goddess herself will guide our journey. May she also guide us, the Communion of Creative Fire, through this imaginal journey, revisiting the sacred sites and processes, the teachings and experiences, the beauty, wonder and depth of the Holon Journey which Jean Houston led through Greece from September 22 - October 9, 2015.
Part One: Athena
As we travel one hundred miles northwest from Athens towards Delphi, our faithful driver Panagiotis (whose name means “holy one”) guides our elephantine bus along cliff edges with the confidence of a boy skirting puddles. The massive ancient mountain of Parnassus, more than a million years old, looms to our right, its rounded limestone bulk worn smooth by eons of weather. Looking downwards left across the valley that leads to the Gulf of Corinth, we see the great olive grove of more than a million trees.
The olive tree was Athena’s gift to the people who named their city in her honour.
We are about to walk the Sacred Way, becoming one with the pilgrims who, for thousands of years, climbed to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.
As was the case in most approaches to temples in Greece, the Sacred Way delivered the pilgrim to the gate of…sacred experience as though through a labyrinth, in this case a labyrinth which began down in the depths of the valley and wound upward through the Gate of Athena at Marmaria, through the underworld of the Kastalian Spring, and then into the sculpted and golden world of manifest divinity. ( "The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece")
ancient site of the Kastalian Spring
Like those earlier pilgrims who approached from Athens, we arrive first at the Tholos of Athena,
a reminder that before Apollo took over this site, it was the holy place of the Earth Mother, Gaia.
The position of the sanctuary symbolizes Athena’s role as the protector of the place…but also serves to restore certain aspects of the old Goddess’ power to the sacred landscape, to mitigate the change wrought by the violence of the Olympian assault. Athena’s power is symbolized by the snake, thus repairing at least part of Gaia’s power snatched by Apollo. (from "Sanctuaries of the Goddess")
Tholos of Athena
The late September sunlight sends a fiery blessing on us as we walk into the area of the Tholos, sacred to Athena.
We see three great pillars supporting the massive stone ruin of the archway, the circle of fallen stones that are all that remain of her temple.
At Jean’s invitation we find places to sit on the ancient rocks, seeking for some hint of shade.
We settle into the realm of Athena, whom Homer praised as “the glorious goddess, bright-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart…”
As Jean’s guiding archetype, the “ever near” Athena adopted Jean to develop the goddess’ own qualities as the One who shapes civilizations,
companioning those who take on the task of co-creating with the Sacred.
We recall Jean’s words from her book, "The Hero and the Goddess" :
The realm of myth exists beyond time and space and daily reality. It is a symbolic world that dwells within us at levels deeper than our normal consciousness. And yet, it can be openly and vividly engaged in ways that expand the possibilities of every aspect of our lives. But to reach these depths and heights, we must pledge our commitment, our theatricality, our excitement. We must not bore the gods – or ourselves….
When we energetically and dramatically encounter this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there, we begin to understand that our individual lives – our personal stories – echo the events and truths of their lives and stories. We reflect these mythic beings and they reflect us. Experiencing this mutual recognition gives us access to more vigor and energy, a greater sense of joy and release, and an even deeper commitment to the unfolding planetary story. We begin living with the doors and windows of ordinary life wide open to the depth world.
(Jean Houston from the Preface to "The Hero and the Goddess"Quest Books, Wheaton, IL 1992, 2009)
Now we begin to engage this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there as Jean leads us in a meditation
where the godded beings of the Greek pantheon offer their powers through each of the Chakras of our bodies.
* This meditation can be found in our Gathering Space for November 17, 2020
Following the meditation we shall begin our climb towards the sanctuary of Apollo on Delphi,
where we may encounter the spirit of the Oracle herself, the Pythias.
We are leaving Athena’s Tholos when a sudden question sends me hurrying to catch up to our Greek guide, Calliope.
“Kapi, you have told us that the Greek people of today honour above all the Sophia, Holy Wisdom.
"Do they see a connection between her and the goddess Athena?” I ask.
“Of course,” Kapi responds. “They see a continuation.”
At once our Communion’s many weeks of reflection on the Sophia become a river flowing from an ancient source,
an unstoppable flow of wisdom and love, a promise fresh and ever-flowering, the Sophia, the “ever near” presence for which we long.
Icon of Sophia purchased in Athens from the Greek Ministry of Antiquites
Communion Reflection for November 10, 2020
Archetypes: Our Travelling Companions
In my grandmother's tiny front parlour, next to her Victrola, sat a huge heavy hard-bound book containing all
of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. In the summers of my childhood, after a magical overnight train journey,
we stayed with my grandmother. I remember my eagerness to open that book on each visit, turning always to the same story:
"The Travelling Companion". It had all the delights a child could want: terror and sadness, mystery and secret journeys
to a hidden cave in a mountain, an ogre and a bloodthirsty princess who beheaded her suitors when they could not answer her questions…
but most of all I loved the main character, John.
Andersen begins, "Poor John was very sad, for his father was ill and would not recover." After a loving farewell, promising that John
would be cared for by providence, the father dies, leaving the young man all alone in the world.
After the funeral, John sets out into the wide world, carrying his inheritance of fifty gold marks.
That night he seeks shelter in a Church where an open coffin sits awaiting a funeral the next day.
Wicked men, to whom the dead man owed money, come to seek revenge. They plan to seize the man's body and hurl it into the woods.
But John approaches them, offering his fifty gold marks if they will promise not to dishonour the dead man. They agree….
Next morning, as John continues on his way, a stranger with a wise and kind countenance asks if he might travel with John
as a companion. Well, you can guess the rest…. This was no ordinary mortal, but a magical being who helps John to win the love
of the fierce princess with whom he has fallen deeply in love. When John and his new bride, now a loving woman,
freed from the ogre's power, begin their new life together, the companion bids John farewell, revealing himself
as the spirit of the dead man whose body John saved from dishonor….
This story has been rising in my memory over these recent weeks as we have been exploring together the concept of Archetypes.
For, after all, is not an archetype in our life truly a "travelling companion", offering not only company but powerful assistance
in achieving the tasks of our lives, the desires of our heart?
I’ve been reflecting on my life, calling to mind and heart Archetypes that came to me for a time, others that remain:
Arwen Undomiel, daughter of the Elf Lord Elrond in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” For years, Arwen was my Archetype,
for her name means “Evening Star of her People”, something I longed to be.
Later, I recognized in Julian of Norwich an Archetypal Presence, drawn to a life of solitude where she reflected,
prayed and wrote her book, ”Revelations of Divine Love.” One day I realized that as Julian spent time each morning at her window
which opened out to a busy street in 14th century Norwich, listening to and responding to those who came to her,
I too had a “Window” where I might listen and respond: my computer.
On a ZOOM call in March, 2019, Jean Houston offered insights from her own decades-long study of archetypes.
Here are some highlights from that experience:
*At the base/root of our relationship with an Archetypal presence is LOVE, the Beloved Friend, the Companion of our lives.
*Archetypes are our connection to the wider reality, the "hooks and eyes" that assist us in accessing
the "Implicate order" as David Bohm calls it.
*We are the explicate order, limited in our reality.
*Archetypes bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strengths
to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.
*Einstein believed imagination was the key to understanding. As we learn to extend our imagination,
it takes us into the imaginal field where so much potential lies, where we encounter the Archetypes.
*Rumi wrote that for each garden that he sees around him,
there are a thousand magnificent gardens within his soul…
Who is the Archetype you chose or were chosen by in your life? He or she may be a real person living now, or someone who once lived
(Julian of Norwich, Hildegard, Brigid of Kildare, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene) or someone in the imaginal realm,
such as the Greek Goddesses, or Brigid, the ancient goddess of the Irish, or Isis of Egypt.
We are called to grow the Archetypes if they are of the past, to engage with them as co-creative partners,
to assist in their rebirth for our times.
Jean suggests we think of a time when we called upon an Archetypal presence to assist us with some task or challenge.
Now imagine how our lives might change if we were to live more consciously, continuously aware of being partnered
by the Archetypal presence in our daily tasks, our relationships, decisions, challenges…
Jean suggests we begin with our strongest senses to engage the Archetype, whether that be through dance, music, art,
or perhaps writing a dialogue where we ask the Archetype a question, then write the answer that rises in us…
During the Zoom Call Jean invited us into the following process:
Breathe deeply, and sense you are drawing in with each breath the presence of your Archetype; draw in her/his seeing, hearing,
touching, tasting, knowing, loving… In the practice what do you see, hear, touch, feel, experience in the presence of the Archetype?
(When I offered this process to a group of friends, some experienced the scent of sandalwood, of roses; felt a sense of wholeness; heard the song, "Love Changes Everything", had an inspiration related to a workshop being planned…)
Raise your hands, palms outward, towards where you imagine your Archetype standing, facing you.
Feel the energy that may tingle on your palms. Know yourself deeply loved, known, encouraged and understood by this presence,
the part of yourself that links you to the sacred, the LOVE in the Universe.
As Jean assures us, a relationship with an Archetypal presence is not unlike other relationships in our lives:
it will grow, deepen, expand over time as we journey with our travelling companion.
Communion Reflection for November 3, 2020
THE NATURE OF ARCHETYPES
In recent postings from Anne Baring’s presentation to “Madonna Rising”, we have been exploring the deeper meaning of Mary of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, the two Mary’s of Chartres, whom Anne describes as having attained “archetypal status. They are each an expression, an embodiment, of the Sacred feminine, an archetype of those energies, qualities that we associate with the womanly face of the divine.
What is an archetype and how might our relationship with one or more both enhance and enchant our lives?
How might archetypes work with us and through us towards the healing of life around our suffering planet?
Jean Houston’s luminous writing on “The Nature of Archetypes” provides answers to both these questions.
Jean tells us: I have had hundreds of research subjects in altered states of consciousness and many thousands of participants in my seminars describe adventures of the soul so grand, so mythic, and yet so redolent of universal themes, that I can readily testify to the existence of a collective pool of myth and archetype residing in each human being as part of his or her natural equipment.
This joining of local life to great life is a central experience of what I call "sacred psychology." It differs from ordinary psychology in that it provides ways of moving from outmoded existence to an amplified life that is at once more cherished and more cherishing. It requires that we undertake the extraordinary task of dying to our current, local selves and of being reborn to our eternal selves. When we descend into the forgotten knowings of earlier or deeper phases of our existence, we often find hidden potentials, the unfulfilled and unfinished seedings of what we still contain, which myth often disguises as secret helpers or mighty talismans.
our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind
Myths have such power because they are full of archetypes. Archetypes are many things--primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order. Later, they became personified in mythic characters and their stories--the contending brothers, the holy child, the search for the beloved, the heroic journey.
As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe. Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works. Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience.
(a) mythic being becomes an aspect of ourselves writ large
Thus, in the journey of transformation, as we participate in these symbolic dramas, we actively engage in archetypal existence. For not only do we form a powerful sense of identity with the archetypal character, but this mythic being becomes an aspect of ourselves writ large, and symbolic happenings appear with undisguised relevance, not only for our own lives and problems, but for the remaking of society as well.
Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.
A psychology with a mythic or sacred base demands that we have the courage both to release old toxicities and diminishments and to gain access to our inner storehouse of capacities and use them to prepare ourselves for the greater agenda--becoming an instrument through which the source may play its great music. Then, like the hero or heroine of myth, we may, regardless of our circumstances, become an inspiration for helping culture and consciousness move towards its next level of possibility.
this dream demands that we live out of our true essence
At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the "unread vision of the higher dream" inherent in both self and society.
Archetypes are shared constructs. We might think of them as greater Presences,
which stand behind and inform the personal images of many individuals.
such timeless beings ask…to be regrown
Sometimes the archetypes manifest in their archaic forms as gods or goddesses or as legendary heroes or heroines of earlier cultures, but always such timeless beings ask to be seen in new and fresh ways--they ask to be regrown. Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively, archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening. I deeply believe that such is happening all over the globe. Because I travel so much, I have occasion to witness firsthand the changing of the archetypes as society changes.
as we grow the "gods", the "gods" grow us
The enhancement goes both ways, for as we grow the "gods", the "gods" grow us. How do we grow these so-called gods? Perhaps it is by pursuing a conscious partnership with an archetype or psychospiritual power that has the same kinds of qualities as ourselves, as Athena was the natural partner of Odysseus. In living and working with these mutual qualities as gracefully as one can, humans help to individuate and extend the essence of the archetype in the world. The archetypes do not need to be met as old dependencies. They need to be met as co-partners.
The individuation of the numinous finds a new turn as people everywhere are learning to live their larger stories and tap into the necessary spiritual DNA to become archetypal. A Buddhist statement expresses wonderfully well what it means to live archetypally. In this state, one sees all beings as Buddha, hears all sounds as mantra, and knows all places as nirvana. To me this means that each moment has its magic, every action however small is stellar in its consequences ("stir a flower and bestir a star"), and each word that one speaks is creation.
What I am calling "Athena" may be the emerging archetypal orchestrator of my own inner crew of selves. Thus I do not become the archetype; rather, I allow her a more central role in my psychic development. As I experience it, this is neither inflation nor possession; it is a partnership that instructs, guides, inspires, as well as shedding light on the meaning and message of hard times-- though without making them go away.
(from the writings ofJean Houston )
image of Athena by Susan Seddon Boulet
The Two Mary’s Of Chartres: Mary Magdalene- 2
( Anne Baring's Presentation to "Madonna Rising " August 2020)
In the week following the Resurrection and Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus in the garden outside his tomb,
the disciples held a gathering at Bethany. There Mary Magdalene, in response to their request, told them of teachings
she’d received from Jesus. Peter rejected these teachings.
Eleven years after this, Mary had to leave Palestine suddenly because of the assassination of King Herod Agrippa,
the ruler of Judea in AD 44, for which the Nazarenes or followers of Jesus were blamed.
It is highly likely that when she embarked for France, she took with her precious texts relating to the teachings
that she and Jesus had shared with a close group of disciples, possibly the text of The Gospel of the Beloved Companion.
Mary Magdalene travelled to France with her sister Martha, her brother Lazarus and Mary Salome, Jesus’ sister,
who was married to Lazarus. Mary travelled widely in Provence and the Languedoc and taught there for nearly 20 years
until her death in AD 63. Legends about her about her abound in this region and there is a village called Les Labadous
near Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc where she is said to have lived for some years in cave on the Sainte Baume Mountain,
named after the precious oil she used to anoint Jesus. Her brother Lazarus buried her in a small church called
Saint Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume and to this day the Basilica of that name holds her relics, including her skull,
in a shrine devoted to her memory. These were guarded for many centuries by Cassianite monks who were devoted to her memory.
In the twelfth century a great abbey was built in her honour at Vezelay.
The Gospel of the Beloved Companion
Published in France in 2010, this “complete gospel of Mary Magdalene” is a translation into English by Jehanne de Quillan
of the Greek text brought from Alexandria to the Languedoc in the early to mid-first century
when Mary Magdalene was herself in France. The text was translated from Greek into Occitan in the twelfth century
and since then has been treasured in secret by a small community.
Anne Baring speaks of its importance: It fills in the vital pages of text that are missing from the version of the Gospel of Mary that is already known to us and that is also in the Nag Hammadi Library. It truly is a momentous document for anyone interested in the teaching of Jesus or Yeshua as he is called in the Gospel, and the relationship between him and the Beloved Companion whom he calls Miryam. He also calls her the Migdalah or the Tower, saying that her tower will stand by his in time to come. It was astonishing for me to find, following everything I have written about the Shekinah and the feminine gender of the Holy Spirit, these words of Yeshua: “My words are the Way, the Truth and the Life. For my words are given of the Spirit, and no one comes to the Kingdom except through Her Teachings.” (35:12)
Anne Baring adds: “In this new gospel we can at last hear the missing words that Mary spoke to the disciples when they had gathered
in her house at Bethany a week after the crucifixion – words that conclude with this vision:
“I felt my soul and all that I could see dissolve and vanish in a brilliant light, in a likeness unto the sun, and in the Light, I beheld a woman of extraordinary beauty, clothed in garments of brilliant white. The figure extended its arms, and I felt my soul drawn into its embrace, and in that moment, I was freed from the world and I realized that the fetter of forgetfulness was temporary. From now on I shall rest through the course of the time of the age in silence.”
Anne Baring tells us: “I have no doubt on reading this Gospel, that Mary Magdalene or Miryam, as he called her,
was the beloved companion and consort of Yeshua and possibly the only one of the Apostles
who truly understood and transmitted his teaching.”
Moreover, Anne speculates that if their union had been celebrated by the Christian Church: We might have been spared the disastrous association of sin with sexuality and the misogyny and mistrust of and contempt for women that affects our culture to this day. We would have had a living image of a sacred marriage right at the heart of Christianity. It may not be too late to restore the relationship and undo the harm that has been done by its absence.
Anne Baring assures us: “We need to know that each one of us, male and female, carry the Divine Light within us
that is called Christ Consciousness. Jesus and Mary Magdalene had each experienced that Light-Consciousness.
"Through their union and their love, the sacred marriage was enacted and the First Temple tradition of Love and Wisdom restored.”
This image in the Cathedral of Trastevere in Rome depicts Jesus with Mary his Mother. Anne Baring suggests it might also be interpreted as an image of the Sacred Marriage between Jesus and his beloved companion Mary Magdalene.
“It may be” Anne concludes, ”that the Soul of the Cosmos has waited aeons for us to reach the point
where more than a handful of individuals could awaken, as Mary Magdalene did, to awareness of the Divine Ground
that animates and supports the whole of our existence. This is her message to us. This is the sublime message
that is carried in the image of the Black Madonna and in the stones, sculptures and glorious rose windows of Chartres
which together manifest the Presence of Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit.”
The Two Mary’s of Chartres
Anne Baring’s Presentation to “Madonna Rising”
Part Two: Mary Magdalene
“As you know,” Anne Baring reminds participants in Madonna Rising, “there are two Mary’s honoured at the heart of Chartres Cathedral: the Virgin Mary and her daughter-in –law Mary Magdalene. The Virgin is celebrated in the glorious northern Rose Window
North Rose Window Chartres Cathedral: Mary in centre circle holding her Son.
" Mary Magdalene is present in the second window on the right as you enter the West door. "
Chartres Cathedral Window: Life of Mary Magdalene
"Both are connected with the Black Madonna in the crypt. I have come to the conclusion that the Black Madonna represents
Mary Magdalene and the Wisdom Tradition that she brought with her from Palestine to France, or Gaul as it was called during
the first century AD. The Wisdom Tradition enshrines the lost Feminine aspect of God, named Sophia, Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit.”
For those us who grew up in the Christian Tradition, whether Catholic, Anglican or branches of Protestantism, this one paragraph
from Anne Baring’s talk during Ubiquity University’s on-line program, “Madonna Rising” holds statements that might have sent us
racing for the sol volatile…
Yet for us, living as we are now in this time of the Great Recovery of so much that was lost over the millennia of human existence,
wisdom suggests that we listen with an open heart and mind. Anne Baring, and others whose research over many decades
has led them to consider other possibilities than those that once seemed engraved in stone, deserve our attention.
So in this Reflection on Mary Magdalene, I offer you Anne Baring’s perspective on
“Mary Magdalene or Mary of Bethany with blue roses”
Anne begins by noting the many books on Mary Magdalene that have been published over the past two decades
showing that “the feminine archetype is using this channel to activate and spread its influence in the world. “
Anne sees the time as right for this, when “what was lost can be restored without fear”:
The despicable calumny placed on Mary Magdalene has been removed and we can now understand that she was the beloved consort of Jesus and co-teacher with him in Palestine, later taking the Essene Wisdom Tradition to France. She was, in the words of Tau Malalchi, the Holy Bride. She may also have been, as Tricia McCannon writes in her book, Return of the Divine Sophia, “the most important single teacher, aside from Jesus, in the entire Christian movement.” She was the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, the feminine counterpart to the Divine Masculine as held by Jesus. She is also the expression of the Divine Feminine within us and her growing importance reflects the activation of the archetype within our soul and within our culture.
As Anne Baring related in her earlier talk on the Shekinah, a powerful priesthood in the 6thc BC Judea succeeded in eradicating
the Divine Feminine from the image of God. Referring to the negative influence of this eradication on two religions,
Judaism and Christianity, and on their cultures, Anne says:
This is the unhealed wound that lies at the heart of these civilizations. It is an extraordinary and also tragic story, whose scattered fragments are gradually being pieced together. I believe, with Betty Kovacs, that the Mission of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was to restore the lost Love-Wisdom teachings and practices of the First Temple.
Anne is now convinced that “Mary Magdalene was the beloved consort of Jesus or Yeshua as he was called in Aramaic,
and the Apostle to the Apostles, described in a gnostic text discovered at Nag Hammadi (Dialogue of the Saviour)
as “The Woman who knew the All” and “the Woman whom Jesus loved.”
The Meeting in the Sepulchre Garden
Anne notes that in all four gospels, Mary Magdalene is described as “present at the crucifixion of Jesus,
standing with his mother and sister at the foot of the cross.”
However, the famous scene of the meeting of Mary and Jesus in the sepulchre garden after his Resurrection is only recorded in the Gospel of John (20:1) ….In the Jewish customs of that time, Mary Magdalene would not have been allowed access to the Sepulchre, with or without other women accompanying her, unless as his wife, she had come to anoint his body for burial, as was the burial custom at that time - a custom to which Mark (16:1) testifies.
Anne Baring adds: “This is so blindingly obvious that I am amazed the academic world has not recognized it.”
The Gospel of John gives the most detailed description of the meeting in the sepulchre garden, saying that Mary came there alone,
when it was not yet light, on the first day of the week and saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
(image from Serge Koder)
She stood there weeping, then looked into the sepulchre and saw there two angels. One of them said to her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She answered, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” Then she turned away and saw a man standing nearby who said to her, “Woman why weepest thou?” She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary”. She turned around and, astonished, said to him, “Rabboni”.
Jesus said to her, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren, and say unto them, ‘I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.”
Fra Angelico's "Noli Me Tangere"
Then Mary went back to the disciples and told then what had taken place.
Later that day when the disciples were gathered together indoors, Jesus appeared to them.
Anne Baring adds that a further meeting of the disciples occurred the following week, one described in The Gospel of Mary
and in The Gospel of the Beloved Companion* both of which record that the disciples met a week later in Mary’s House in Bethany:
(Mary) told them in answer to their questions, the words that Yeshua had spoken to her. What she told them was rejected by Peter, always jealous of her closeness to Jesus and uncomprehending of what he taught the disciples.
*The Gospel of the Beloved Companion has recently been translated by Jehanne de Quillan from a First Century Greek text brought to France from Alexandria. It matches fragments of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary and may be the source text for the later Gospel of John.
( next week: Part Two: Mary Magdalene in France)
The Two Mary's of Chartres Cathedral
Following her presentation on the Shekinah, Anne Baring offered to participants in Ubiquity University‘s online program, “Madonna Rising” a Reflection on Mary of Nazareth, Mother of Jesus the Christ, and Mary Magdalene, both “women who lived on this earth.” Though both women appear briefly in the New Testament Gospel stories, each has now, two millennia later, taken on Archetypal status.
Part One: Mary of Nazareth
Mary of Nazareth is “the unrecognized Great Goddess of the Wisdom Tradition”. Anne Baring makes this startling statement after a lifetime of research into the art, ritual and mythology honouring the Goddess in cultures and civilizations that existed for several thousand years before the Christian era. By the time of Christ, the tradition of the Sacred Feminine in Judaism had been obliterated, so that Christianity’s Scriptural inheritance lacked a feminine divinity. As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the great goddesses: Isis of Egypt, Inanna of Sumeria, and the Greek goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Persephone, Artemis and Hera with their Roman counterparts were effectively banished.
Yet Anne Baring reveals an unexpected turn in the tale. Though worship of a particular emanation of the Goddess may be forbidden, though her sacred groves may be cut down, her statues and carvings smashed and slashed, though the speaking of her name may be forbidden, the Archetype that responds to human longing cannot be obliterated. It will persist over millennia in paintings and statues, in poetry and song, in symbol and above all in the cries of the human hearts that turn to her. As Christianity became the dominant religion of the Western World, those longings became centred on Mary, the woman who bore in her body Jesus who is the Christ.
In The Myth of the Goddess, co-authored with Jules Cashford, (Viking, 1991) Anne Baring notes that “the entire ancient world, from Asia Minor to the Nile, from Greece to the Indus Valley, abounds in figures of the naked female form in various attitudes of all-supporting, all-including goddesses… Mary…became the sole inheritor of all the names and forms, sorrows, joys and consolations of the Goddess-Mother of the Western World: Seat of Wisdom, Vessel of Honour, Mystical Rose, House of Gold, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace.”
As Anne pointed out in her presentation during “Madonna Rising”, within 500 years of her death, Mary of Nazareth had attained the presence and status of the Great Goddesses who preceded her: Inanna of Sumeria and Isis of Egypt, carrying the archetype of Wisdom, associated, as were the earlier goddesses, with Venus, the Morning Star, with the moon, with the Rose Garden, with the Sacred Grove
Devotion to Mary blossomed in Medieval times, when the concept of courtly love was flourishing. Over a period of 125 years during the 12th and 13th centuries, while Chartres Cathedral was being constructed as the centre of devotion to Mary, another 500 Churches were built and dedicated to Mary. Within the Cathedral of Chartres, magnificent works of art celebrate Mary as womb of creation, fountain of love, tree of life and rose garden.
This statue of Mary, depicting her as the Black Madonna, seated on a throne, holding her child on her lap, associates Mary with Isis of Egypt, whose symbol is the throne, who appears in ancient images seated with her son Horus on her lap. The widowed Isis wears a black robe in mourning for her husband Osiris. In a title Mary inherits from Isis, she is “Star of the Sea”, in Latin. “Stella Maris”. Like Isis, Mary is invoked by sailors for protection, especially at night when they must navigate by starlight. The rich imagery of the Black Madonna extends in Christian symbolism to the heart of the mystic experience in the dark night of the soul.
Church Doctrine over the past 1500 years had to work to “catch up” to what Christians already knew in their hearts. The Church Fathers debated for decades, for centuries, to find their way through the tangle of Augustine’s concept of “Original Sin”, in order to proclaim that a human, Mary, might be worthy to carry God in her womb, to be, as Mary was proclaimed, “Theotokos” or “God Bearer”. It was St. Anthony, an early follower of St. Francis of Assisi, who found the way through. Mary must have, from the moment of her conception through the lovemaking of her parents Anna and Joachim, been without original sin. Thus in the Doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” Mary was recognized as free from Original Sin in advance of her Son’s coming as Redeemer.
Other Church proclamations lifted Mary to the status of the ancient Goddesses. In 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption declaring that Mary upon her death was taken into Heaven, body and soul. In the proclamation of the Assumption, Pope Pius alluded to “the heavenly marriage.” Carl Jung saw this doctrine as the most significant Christian religious event since the Reformation, an integration of the feminine principle into the Christian conception of the Godhead.
Four years later, in 1954, Mary was given the title long ago held by Isis and Inanna: “Queen of Heaven”.
Who has Mary become for us? Anne Baring notes that in the past thousand years, there have been 21,000 Visions of Mary, 210 reported between 1928 and 1971. Many Churches have been constructed on the site of Visions, notably the Sanctuary of Lourdes. The prayers addressed to her by mystics and ordinary suffering humanity are themselves witness to her presence of love in our lives. As Isis received the prayers of ancient people who were in danger, suffering, or approaching death, now Mary hears those prayers. As a palpable, reachable, presence of love in our daily lives on this planet, Mary embodies in human form aspects of the Shekinah that somehow have been transferred to her: the heart-centred qualities that we humans have sought for millennia beyond counting: wisdom, love, justice, beauty, harmony, and the instinct to heal, nurture, protect and cherish.
Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th c. abbot and mystic, wrote a prayer to Mary found in
Visions of Mary by Jill K. H. Geoffrion (Paraclete Press, Brewster MA 2017)
think of Mary,
call upon Mary.
If you follow her, you cannot falter;
if you pray to her, you cannot despair;
if you think of her, you cannot err.
If she sustains you, you will not stumble;
if she protects you, you have nothing to fear;
if she guides you, you will never flag;
if she is favourable to you, you will attain your goal.
Before We Leave the Rose Garden
Communion Reflection for October 6, 2020
For the past four weeks, we have been sitting at the feet of scholar and wise woman, Anne Baring, as she unfolded for us her research,
her intuitions, her reflections on the Divine Feminine, especially as She is known in Judaism as the Shekinah.
These teachings have been so rich and profound that they merit more than a brief reading.
In preparing the four reflections, I spent many hours seeking to understand Anne Baring’s work, seeking a way
to present her teachings so that you might also enter them with joy.
This week, I invite you to spend time re-reading the four Rose Garden pieces and fashioning a response
either in your own words or in words from another writer or poet.
What do you hear the Sacred Feminine say to you?
What do you wish to say to her?
You may be blessed to receive a poem in which this Presence of Love speaks to you directly.
Or you may be inspired to simply write your own words to this Sacred Presence.
I offer you three examples:
“Here’s the Dark Mother” by Peg Rubin
I am the Voice in the whirlwind,
in the place others call, and experience as,
I am above, below, within the Chaos.
I am the darkness.
And I am the One to seek when you need to source yourself in joy,
in peace, in turbulence.
But beyond, beyond, way beyond
the normal experience of darkness,
I invite you into the Darkness—beyond and before and after Time.
This is your Source, your Origin.
If things fall apart,
if you fall apart,
come into my all-holding embrace.
I am the energy that shapes and holds universes together.
Can I do any less for you?
There is pressure in my holding
and incalculable power—so after a time of rest you may begin to feel the pressure
of new birth—persistent, insistent.
I who shape galaxies
do not hesitate to shape you—fiercely, perhaps—but truly to your most
elegant and beautiful design.
Your design—like the galaxy—
is glorious to behold.
And in my vast darkness
I hold that pattern, and desire
you to recognize it, to become it.
You will not fly apart,
though it may feel like it.
I am holding you and
I am holding your becoming.
Black Madonna of Montserrat
Mother Wisdom Speaks
Christin Lore Weber
"I am the maiden of joy. ?
I am song in the wind and rain upon the rocks.
I am fair love and holy hope and the flight of the dove.
I am earth, betrothed. I am mystical rose. ?
I am the mother of mystery. ?
I hold opposites together.
"I birth children and sever the cord with my teeth.
Those I love I send away to their lives.
I am the cauldron of fire and the cup of milk.
I am the two edged knife. ?
"I am the old woman: I am the queen.
?If you seek me you will find me everywhere.
I am the womb of wise blood.
I am the world's crown. I am diamond. I am pearl.
I shine with the wisdom of God.
??"I am the circle of being.
?I am glory — splendor of infinite life.
I am the spiral, the fullness of being, fully becoming,
forever, world without end."
Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain...
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
People will find their way through you.
People will eat from you
and their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain....
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you Brilliant One.
I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.
I will call you transformed.
(Originally published in "Circle of Mysteries: The Woman's Rosary Book",
and "Woman Prayers" edited by Mary Ford-Gabowsky)
“In My Glad Hours” by Rainer Maria Rilke (words that express what I wish to say to this Presence of Love)
In my glad hours, I will make a city of your smile, a distant city that shines and lives. I will take one word of yours to be an island on which birches stand, or fir trees, quite still and ceremonial. I will receive your glance as a fountain in which things can disappear and above which the sky trembles, both eager and afraid to fall in.
I will know that all of this exists, that one can enter this city, that I have glimpsed this island and know exactly when there is no one else beside that fountain. But if I appear to hesitate, it is because I am not sure whether it is the forest through which we are walking or my own mood that is shaded and dark. (Rilke: Early Journals)
With what words will you respond to the Sacred Feminine or in what words will this Presence of Love address you?
Please send your words to me so they may be shared with our Communion:
Entering the Rose Garden: Part Four
Communion Reflection for September 29, 2020
Where might we who yearn to find the lost Divine Feminine seek for her?
Anne Baring concludes her presentation on the Shekinah with directions for our quest.
Her first suggestion will be familiar to us: the Biblical Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom.
These we have encountered in our earlier exploration of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s writings in The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature.
From this rich source, Anne Baring cites these examples:
In the Book of Proverbs (8: 23-31), Wisdom tells us she is the Beloved of God, with Him from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. She speaks from the deep ground of life as the hidden law which orders it and as the Craftswoman of creation. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo has painted her tucked into the crook of God’s arm. With their vivid imagery, these passages transform the idea of the Holy Spirit, speaking as Divine Wisdom, from abstract idea into living presence.
In the Book of Wisdom…Wisdom is described as sitting by the throne of the Lord in heaven (9:10) and is spoken of as the Holy Spirit (9:17).
Elsewhere, Wisdom speaks as though, like the Shekinah, she were here, in this dimension, dwelling with us in the midst of her kingdom, accessible to those who seek her out. She is unknown and unrecognized, yet working within the depths of life, striving to open our understanding to the divine reality of her presence, the sacredness of her creation, her justice, wisdom, love and truth. In the Book of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Wisdom, perhaps recalling the time when she was honoured and worshipped in the First Temple, proclaims herself to be the soul and intelligence of the cosmos, rooted in tree, vine, earth and water and active in the habitations of humanity. She is the principle of justice that inspires human laws. She appeals to all those who are desirous of her to fill themselves with her fruits, “For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb.” (24:20)
Anne Baring calls this “the language of the immanence of the Divine Feminine in the world”.
Anne continues: “To those who, like Solomon, prized her more highly than rubies, Wisdom was their wise and luminous guide.”
I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me…I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for the light that cometh from her never goeth out…For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty… She is the brightness of the everlasting Light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness … She is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the Light, she is found before it… I loved her, and sought her out from my youth. I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty. (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 7, 10, 25, 26, 29, 8:2).
Aurora Borealis as it appeared in the night skies over Tromso in Norway as the Full Moon of October 1st is about to appear. These feminine colours offer a promise of the return of the sacred feminine in these dark times on our planet. (Celia Fenn)
Anne Baring’s treasure map leads to another source where knowledge of the Shekinah may be found:
During the last fifty years or so, it has become increasingly clear that there was a great underground stream of human experience which flowed from the thriving city of Alexandria into several different channels—into the writings of the early Christian Gnostics discovered at Nag Hammadi, into the Hermetic Tradition and the later Alchemists, and the transmitters, both Jewish and Christian, of the ancient cosmology of Kabbalism. Hellenistic Egypt in the second and third centuries AD was the ultimate source of all these traditions yet we now know that the roots lie deeper, in the temple teachings of a far older time, whether in Palestine or Egypt. Alexandria was a Greek city, the meeting place of East and West – a vibrant crucible for the exchange of ideas and teachings between Egyptians, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, and also sages from far-away Persia and India….In Alexandria Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit was called Sophia –the Greek word for Wisdom – a name which descended to the time when the emperor Justinian built the great Christian Basilica in Constantinople called Hagia Sophia.
Who were the Gnostics? Anne Baring describes them as a group of early Christians, some descended from the Jews who fled Jerusalem in 70 AD following the destruction of the temple by the Romans. They claimed to have the secret teaching of Jesus, given by him to his closest disciples, including James and Mary Magdalene. There were many Gospels circulated among them in addition to the four we now know. One of these: “The Gospel of the Beloved Companion” attributed to Mary Magdalene, found its way to France from Alexandria in the First Century.
This book has recently been translated from the Greek by Jehanne de Quillan.
Elaine Pagels’ book The Gnostic Gospels tells of the fate of these other Gospels within 200 years of the life of Jesus:
Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups revered was omitted from the canonical collection, and branded as heretical by those who called themselves orthodox. By the time the process of sorting the various writings ended…virtually all the feminine imagery for God had disappeared from the orthodox Christian tradition.
As Anne Baring tells us, until 1977 with the publication of the texts discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, “no one knew that some groups of early Christians had an image of the Divine Mother whom they had named ‘The Invisible within the All.’”
In the Christian era, the “further and final loss of the Divine Feminine” was brought about. In AD 325, the Church Council of Nicaea associated Wisdom with Christ as the Logos, the Divine Word.
From this time the Christian image of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit became wholly identified with the masculine archetype. The ancient connection between the Holy Spirit and the Divine Feminine was irrevocably and, for western civilization, tragically lost. The monotheism of the three Patriarchal religions has led to the situation today where the Earth is no longer viewed as sacred and we are confronted with the catastrophic effects of the loss of the Divine Feminine.
In closing her presentation on the Shekinah, Anne Baring offers this question for our Reflection:
“What difference would there be in your life if the Shekinah-Sophia was a living presence for you?”
Communion Reflections for September 22, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden: Part Three
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
(This is the third Reflection based on the opening talk Anne Baring gave to Ubiquity University’s online course: “Madonna Rising” in August 2020. I am grateful to Anne Baring for making her lecture notes available to participants. Direct quotes are designated by quotation marks, or for longer sections, by the use of italics.)
The Feminine Face of the God-Head
In the mystical tradition of Judaism, the Shekinah or feminine face of the god-head is named as Cosmic Womb, Palace, Enclosure, Fountain, Apple Orchard and Mystical Garden of Eden. She is named as the architect of worlds, source or foundation of our world, also as the Radiance, Word or Glory of the unknowable ground or godhead. Text after text uses sexual imagery and the imagery of light to describe how the ray which emanates from the unknowable ground enters into the womb—the Great Sea of Light—of the Celestial Mother and how she brings forth the male and female creative energies which, as two branches of the Tree of Life, are symbolically King and Queen, Son and Daughter. A third branch of the Tree descends directly down the centre, unifying and connecting the energies on either side….
The Heart centre of these three branches or pillars…is called Tiphareth.
As “the indwelling and active Holy Spirit”, the Shekinah is both “divine guide and immanent presence”. She it is who frees us from beliefs that separate us from our source, restoring the world to “union with the divine ground.” By bringing into being all that is ensouled by the divine source, “she generates the manifest world we know”, remaining here until “the whole creation is enfolded once again into its source.”
Kabbalism sees “the divine Mother-Father image…expressed as the male and female of all species”.
Humanity, female and male, is therefore the expression of the duality-in-unity of the god-head. The Shekinah is forever united with her beloved Spouse in the divine ground or heart of being and it is their union in the god-head that holds life in a constant state of coming into being. Yet she is also present—here with us—in the material reality of our world. The sexual attraction between man and woman and the expression of true love between them is the enactment or reflection at this level of creation of the divine embrace at its heart that is enshrined in the cherished words of the Song of Songs: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”(6:3) Human sexual relationship, enacted with love, mutual respect and joy, is a sacred ritual that is believed to maintain the ecstatic union of the divine pair.
Dwelling as divine presence in all that is, the Shekinah assures that “nothing is outside spirit.”
In the radiance of that invisible cosmic Sea of Light, everything is connected to everything else as through a luminous circulatory system. Moreover, the Shekinah is deeply devoted to what she has brought into being, as a mother is devoted to the well-being of her child. All life on earth, all levels and degrees of consciousness, all forms of what we see and name as “matter” are the creation of the primal fountain of Light, and are therefore an expression of divinity.
The colours associated with the Shekinah are blue and gold. She is the ground of the human soul, its “light body”, its “outer garment, the physical body, and its animating spirit or consciousness.” The Shekinah is “the holy presence of the ‘glory of God’ within everyone.”
We, all of us, moving from unconsciousness and ignorance of this radiant ground to awareness of and relationship with it, live in her being and grow under her power of attraction until we are reunited with the source, discovering ourselves to be what in essence we always were but did not know ourselves to be—sons and daughters of God, living expressions of divine spirit.
Like Isis, widowed, mourning, searching for her beloved Osiris, the Shekinah wears a black robe. This signifies “the darkness of the mystery which hides the glory of her Light.” This imagery “was carried forward to the Black Madonna.”
The imagery of Kabbalism may also be discerned in fairy tales. The forgotten image of the Divine Feminine, the veiled Shekinah appears as the Fairy God-mother who “presides over her daughter’s transformation from soot-blackened drudge to royal bride”.
Helena Bonham Carter as fairy godmother in the film “Cinderella”
Might Cinderella represent, as Harold Bayley suggests in The Lost Language of Symbolism, “the human soul as it moves from ’rags to riches’ ?”
Cinderella’s three splendid dresses, which could be equated with the “robe of glory” of certain kabbalist and gnostic texts, represent the soul’s luminous sheaths or subtle bodies, as dazzling as the light of moon, sun and stars.
Just as the soot-blackened girl in the fairy tale puts on her three glorious dresses to reveal herself as she truly is, so does the human soul don these “robes of glory” as she moves from the darkness of ignorance into the revelation of her true nature and parentage.
Next week: the Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature and in the Gnostic Gospels
Communion Reflection for September 15, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden: Part Two
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
Anne Baring finds in the richness of Kabbalistic teachings and traditions, traces of the luminous period of the First Temple in Israel. Thanks to her generosity in making her lecture notes available to those who participated in Ubiquity University’s online program “Madonna Rises”, I have Anne Baring’s own words to rely on. Short quotes are in quotation marks, longer ones are shown in italics.
Last week, we reflected on The Tree of Life as an image of the soul of the cosmos. “Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.” In the Tree of Life there exists “one cosmic symphony”.
"Tree of Life" artwork by Y. Andino
The Tree of Life is no hierarchical descent from invisible to visible. Rather it is “an image of worlds nesting within worlds,
dimensions within dimensions emanating…from within outwards…the tapestry of relationships which connect invisible spirit
with the visible fabric of this world…. At the innermost level is the unknowable source or god-head,
at the outermost the physical forms of matter.”
And who or where are we in this “one unified web of life: one energy, one spirit, one single cosmic entity” ?
Anne Baring responds: “According to this Tradition, we are, each one of us, that life, that energy, that spirit.”
There is something still more wonderful: an intermediary between “the unknowable source”
and “the physical forms of matter”:
The Shekinah is the image of the Divine Feminine or the Feminine Face of God as it was conceived
in this mystical tradition of Judaism. In the image and cosmology of the Shekinah, we encounter
the most complete description of Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit as the indissoluble relationship
between the two primary aspects of the god-head that have been lost or hidden for centuries.
The Shekinah- the feminine co-creator- is the Voice or Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Glory of God,
the Compassion of God, the Active Presence of God: intermediary between the mystery
of the unknowable source or ground and this world of its ultimate manifestation.
The concept of the Shekinah as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit ….transmutes all creation, including the apparent
insignificance and ordinariness of everyday life, into something to be loved, embraced, honoured and celebrated
because it is the epiphany or shining forth of the divine intelligence and love that has brought it into being and dwells hidden within it.
The elimination of the image of the Great Mother took away from us the concept that “the whole of nature was ensouled
with spirit and therefore sacred”. Through the millennia of Patriarchal religions we suffered the loss of our “age-old
sense of participation in a Sacred Order.”
The Shekinah, named as Divine Wisdom and Holy Spirit- divinity present and active in the world-
supplies the missing imagery of divine immanence which is absent from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
And this mystical tradition brings together heaven and earth, the divine and the human,
in a coherent and seamless vision of their essential relationship.
How would the recovery of the Shekinah as the feminine aspect of the god-head,
as Mother, Beloved, Sister and Bride transform our image of God? of Nature? of ourselves?
Anne Baring states that “the Shekinah gives woman what she has lacked throughout the last two thousand years
in western civilization—a sacred image of the Divine Feminine that is reflected at the human level in herself.”
Yet in the ancient world Wisdom was always associated with the image of a Goddess: Inanna in Sumeria,
Isis and Ma’at in Egypt, Athena in Greece... Anne Baring celebrates the recovery of these ancient images
with the even greater richness of the Shekinah’s role in the web of Life:
The Bronze Age imagery of the Great Goddesses returns to life in the extraordinary beauty and power
of the descriptions of the Shekinah, and in the gender endings of nouns which describe the feminine dimension of the divine.
But the Divine Feminine is now defined as a limitless connecting web of life, as the invisible Soul of the Cosmos,
as the intermediary between the unknowable god-head and life in this dimension. The Shekinah brings together
heaven and earth, the invisible and visible dimensions of reality in a resplendent vision of their essential relationship and union.
Another aspect of this tradition preserves the image from the Bronze Age of the Sacred Marriage.
Rather than a Father God there is a Mother-Father who are “one in their eternal embrace, one in their ground,
one in their emanation, one in their ecstatic and continual act of creation through all the dimensions
they bring into being and sustain.”
Ann Baring comments: From the perspective of divine immanence, there is no essential separation
between spirit and nature or spirit and matter.
And in a burst of poetic praise, adds: No other cosmology offers the same breath-taking vision
in such exquisite poetic imagery of the union of male and female energies in the One that is both.
Not surprisingly, the kabbalists, in contemplating the mystery of this divine union, turned for inspiration to “The Song of Songs”.
THE BRIDE: Wine flowing straight to my Beloved,
as it runs on the lips of those who sleep.
I am my Beloved's
and his desire is for me.
Come my Beloved
let us go to the fields....
We will see if the vines are budding,
if their blossoms are opening,
if the pomegranate trees are in flower.
Then I shall give you
the gift of my love.
(excerpt from The Song of Songs 7: 9-13 Jerusalem Bible)
Communion Reflection for September 8, 2020
Entering the Rose Garden
Whatever their ways,
they are all in love with you,
Each comes, by a path, to the Rose Garden
For seven days in mid-August, I spent time in an ancient Rose Garden, an imaginal space engineered by ZOOM, offered by Ubiquity University, peopled by scholars and archaeologists of the soul, dancers, storytellers, musicians, poets and mystics whose great task is recovering and offering to those who hunger for it, the knowledge and awareness of the Divine Feminine. This on-line program, whose over one hundred participants joined in from countries across the planet, was a blessed side effect of COVID which made Ubiquity’s fourteen-year tradition of a summer program in the Chartres Cathedral of France impossible this year.
The program was called “Madonna Rising.” Its central image was the Mystical Rose, a title honouring the Sacred Feminine in ancient cultures, such as Egypt and Sumeria. Later, it was a title given to Mary, Mother of Jesus.
On Day One we are greeted from her home in California by Banafsheh Sayyad, who over the following days would lead us in sacred dance, inviting us to open our lives to the Divine Feminine Presence. Banafsheh introduced the theme of Madonna Rising by quoting a Prophecy from the Cherokee Nation:
“The bird of humanity has two great wings - a masculine wing and a feminine wing. The masculine wing has been fully extended for centuries, fully expressed, while the feminine wing in all of us has been truncated, not yet fully expressed - half extended. ?So the masculine wing in all of us has become over- muscular and over-developed and in fact violent and the bird of humanity has been flying in circles for hundreds and hundreds of years, held up only fully by the masculine wing that became over- muscular and violent. In the 21st century, however, something remarkable will happen. The feminine wing in all of us will fully extend and find its way to express and the masculine wing will relax in all of us and the bird of humanity will soar.”?
Banafsheh lifted a rose from her desk and it appeared to move off- screen to be received by Anne Baring, seated in her home in England.
In the first of her trilogy of presentations, Anne would begin to tell the tale of how the bird of humanity
lost the power of gracious flight in its feminine wing.
Author of Dream of the Cosmos (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England, 2013) ;The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, 1992)
Anne delves for light in history, following paths not yet made, seeking the story that came before the story
in pursuit of clarity about so much that has been lost to us.
Was there a story that preceded the 6th c. BCE Creation Story in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible?
And if so, how was it lost? Here is what Anne’s research found:
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
(The Book of Wisdom, 7:10 Jerusalem Bible)
Solomon, to whom the Book of Wisdom is ascribed, built the First Temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BCE.
In the time of the First Temple, Israel had an ancient, shamanic, visionary tradition. Divine Wisdom was worshipped in this First Temple
as the Goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh and the co-creator of the world with him.
In this tradition the Tree of life was associated with Wisdom, Queen of Heaven.
Anne then told us how all this changed:
In 621 BC, in the reign of King Josiah, a powerful group of priests called Deuteronomists took control of the Temple….
The Deuteronomists had the statue of the Goddess Asherah and the great Serpent, image of her power to regenerate life,
removed from the Temple and destroyed. Her Sacred Groves were cut down. All images of her were broken.
The ancient shamanic rituals of the High Priest which had honoured and communed with the Queen of Heaven as Divine Wisdom
and Holy Spirit were banished and replaced by new rituals based on obedience to Yahweh’s Law.
The vital communion with the inner dimensions of reality was lost; the making of images was forbidden.
As I listened to this, I felt something inside me twist in pain. More even than the destruction of her images,
the cutting down of the trees sacred to the Goddess wrenched my heart.
Anne spoke of the long-lasting effects of this rupture:
This is the crucially important time when I think it is possible to say that the whole foundation of Jewish and later Christian civilization
became unbalanced. The Deuteronomists ensured the Yahweh was the sole Creator God. The Feminine co-creator, the Goddess Asherah,
was eliminated. The Divine Feminine aspect of the god-head was banished from orthodox Judaism. The Deuteronomists went further:
they demoted the Queen of Heaven – Mother of All Living – into the human figure of Eve, bestowing this title upon her.
They created the Myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis (2 & 3), with its message of sin, guilt and banishment from the Garden of Eden,
severing the Tree of Life from its ancient association with the Queen of Heaven.
Anne Baring suggests that the “heritage seeds’’ of the First Temple’s teaching were somehow preserved in the Jewish traditions of Kabbalism:
It seems highly significant that one of the most important images of Kabbalism is the Tree of Life, which is a clear
and wonderful concept describing the web of relationships which connect invisible spirit with the fabric of life in this world.
At the innermost level or dimension of reality is the unmanifest, unknowable Divine Ground; at the outermost the physical forms
we call nature, body and matter. Linking the two is the archetypal template of the Tree of Life—an inverted tree—whose
branches grow from its roots in the divine ground and extend through many invisible worlds or dimensions until they reach this one.
Anne describes this cosmology as one where
Every aspect of creation, both visible and invisible, is interconnected and interwoven with every other aspect.
All is one life, one cosmic symphony, one integrated whole. We participate, at this material level of creation,
in the divine life which informs all these myriad levels of reality. Our human lives are therefore inseparable from the inner life of the Cosmos.
The Kabbalistic tradition is “vitally important” Anne says, because it celebrates…the indissoluble relationship and union between
the feminine and masculine aspects of the god-head—a sacred union which
the three Patriarchal religions have ignored or deliberately rejected.
I will end this excerpt from Anne Baring’s first talk with a statement she makes that is both stark and striking in its clarity:
If we want to understand the deep roots of our present environmental and spiritual crisis, we can find them
in the loss of three important elements: the feminine image of spirit, the direct shamanic path of communion with spirit
through visionary and shamanic experience, and the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspect of the God-head
and the Divine Ground. Each of these was an intrinsic aspect of the lost traditions and practices of the First Temple.
(to be continued)
Communion Reflection for September 1, 2020
Season of Lughnasadh
This evening, bathed in the light of the almost-full moon, we shall gather again in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery on Iona.
We are not the same women who gathered there on June 30th nor were we then the same women we each had been
in the weeks before that. We have been living together a planetary experience unlike any other.
The global COVID pandemic has changed life for all of us, though in unique ways. Yet the question it raises is one we may each ponder:
WHO AM I REALLY?
Ten women in our Communion responded this past week to my request for a reflection on that question both personally and communally.
You will hear some of their personal responses in tonight’s Gathering Space.
In this first Reflection since June, I offer my thoughts on who and where we are as the Communion of Creative Fire.
We are now in the Season of Lughnasadh (August 1st to September 21st) , the Harvest time in the Celtic Calendar.
Lugh the "many-gifted One"
This festival honours Lugh the fiery god of the Children of Danu, known as the “many-gifted One”. At Lughnasadh we are invited
to think about who we are by noticing our gifts, what our lives are harvesting. Next week, in the Gathering Space we shall hold
a Ritual for Lughnasadh. Each of us will be invited to bring some symbol to represent our gift.
These will be placed on the altar in the Garden of the Ruined Nunnery.
Each will be invited to say something about the gift that best answers the question: WHO AM I REALLY?
(You have this week to prepare for the Ritual on September 8th)
I’ve chosen my symbol for next week’s ritual. It’s a rock, roughly heart – shaped, painted black with silver clusters
that might be stars fallen from the Milky Way. At its centre, like a fiery phoenix in flight, a flame burns.
Several years ago I purchased this rock for it spoke to me of our Communion of Creative Fire.
This symbol expresses who I am, someone engaged with each of you in seeking a spirituality for our time,
one that will light up the inner sky within us, flaming in our hearts, speaking of the most ancient images of our universe:
darkness and light and fire.
What is this story that we in the Communion have been living? The Festival of Lughnasadh, August 1st, is directly opposite
the Festival of Imbolc, Brigid's Feast, February 1st, in the Wheel of the Celtic Year.
It was on Brigid's Feast in 2013 that I sent out an email of invitation to forty women I knew, women whom I believed
had the wisdom, courage and creative spirit to engage with me in an exploration of uncharted spiritual territory.
There were no maps we might follow. No clear signs for the roads we would explore. And no one among us knew where the journey would end.
Nor has it yet ended. At times, it feels as though we have only just begun.
As happens on important journeys, where the only clarity is the desire of our own hearts for a treasure in the realm of spirit,
some of those who set out with us in 2013 experienced a lure leading them to follow a different spiritual path.
For others, new demands or losses in their personal lives made it difficult or impossible, at least for a time,
for them to continue with us. Other women were drawn to walk with us as the journey continued
so that somehow the number of our company has remained fairly constant at around thirty.
Jean Houston, whose inspiration gave birth to the Communion, offered us a wonderful gift in writing our first Reflection,
"Communing with the Creative Fire of the Universe". (You will find it on our website archived under "Jean Houston.")
This is something for us to read and re-read, especially when we are travelling in misty valleys,
in danger of losing sight of our purpose, in need of fanning the flames of our original desire.
Looking through the other titles in the Archives can remind us of the wisdom we have sought from the Mystics,
especially our godmothers: Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and Brigid of Ireland.
Julian of Norwich Icon by Anna Dimascio
We explored the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, which were foundational for Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.
Their development of the "Powers of the Universe" expanded our awareness of what we as humans,
as well as other forms of life who share our planet, hold within us.
We studied the Medieval Women Mystics, found kindred spirits among the Beguines,
explored the writings and poetry of mystics of other faith traditions, including the Sufis (Hafiz, Rumi, Rabia) and Buddhist writings.
We found inspiration in Celtic Spirituality, in the great mythologies of the Egyptians and the Greeks,
in ancient stories of many cultures and in the traditions of the Indigenous peoples of many times and places.
In the writings of Rabbi Rami Shapiro we met the Sacred Feminine Presence of Chochma in the Hebrew Scriptures,
the one known by the name of Sophia in other traditions. Later we would learn that Teilhard honoured a Sacred Feminine Presence
in the Universe whom we identify as Sophia. Merton's poem "Hagia Sophia" was inspired by the writings of Russian Christians…
We looked at Mary Magdalene through the lens of her title "Apostle to the Apostles".
Mary Magdalene by Sieger Koder
We began to explore The Gospel of Mary from the second century, in the fragments found in an antiquities market in Cairo in 1896,
only becoming available to English scholars in the 1970's… (As a preview of coming attractions, I want to let you know
I have been studying a recently published book by a woman descended from the Cathars of SouthWestern France
which may be a translation from the Greek of the complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene,
as well as the primary source for the later Gospel of John.)
Where have we been going in these seven and a half years together?
Would the tracks we have left behind allow others to follow?
Have we made any progress so that we might gaze around and say "look how far we’ve come"?
I do not think so. It seems to me that we have been walking a spiral, circling round and round even as we travel
imperceptibly deeper and deeper still.
And this is a very good thing. Because it is the journey that matters,
and the measure of our progress is within each of us and among us.
Powers of the Universe: Part Ten
All the powers of the universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another,
present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance.
In his concluding talk in the DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe” Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.
The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light. The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light. The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth, pulling the earth to the sun.
We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.
The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does. The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon. The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.
It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT.
Radiance is the primary language of the universe.
We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance.
The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it,
and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!
Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another,
a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception, Swimme says,
is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depth perception of beauty.
When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality
or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth?
Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance
where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.
When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away
and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt
that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates)
we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.
We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe.
The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance,
as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!
We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond with us.
The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire.
We feel what reverberates out, Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there.
We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer.
Reverberation is the primary sacrament. We become the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough,
it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other. The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another
when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another.
There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.
The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest-paleontologist
who died in 1955, wrote: “Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually
been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within...
The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe...
This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth - the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe,
the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame”. (The Divine Milieu)
"the Divine radiating from the depth of matter aflame"
Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote: “From my infancy until now, in the 70th year of my age,
my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air....
The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun ....
I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”....
Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me.
When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me,
and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”
The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine Inter-Relatedness
One summer morning while I was living in my hermitage in the woods beside the Bonnechere River, I sat outdoors, holding a mug of coffee, enjoying a warm breeze. It must have been a Tuesday because I was preparing to write on Inter-relatedness for our Communion of Creative Fire.
At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.
I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or pummelled by winds in a recent storm.
I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.
After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out. Then, I happened to look up at the tree.
Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.
Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.
Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks led down into the river. Embraced by the slowly moving water, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy.
The Bonnechere River
But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. Again I sensed a presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…
It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.
Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.
Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.
In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.
Mother Loon nestles babies on her back
Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.
How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.) What would be another way?
Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed–in perspective.
Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.
On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.